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FRANKFORT – Gov. Steve Beshear’s nationally recognized e-transparency website, Open Door, is serving as a model not just for other states, but also for international journalists and government leaders. Nineteen media professionals from Africa will meet Thursday with representatives from the Finance and Administration Cabinet to learn about the searchable portal that enables taxpayers to explore how government money is being spent.
The leaders are part of the International Visitor Leadership Program, and this is the second time Open Door has been selected as a stop for program participants. The website, online at www.OpenDoor.ky.gov, was nominated for the program by the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
Since its inception in 2009, leaders from 20 countries have come to Kentucky to learn about the website.
“I’m very proud of the honors received by Open Door and of my administration’s efforts to make government more accountable and transparent to the people,” Beshear said. “It is an honor to share our success story with international guests so that they may use Open Door as an example to develop similar programs to keep their citizens informed on valuable government information.”
The 19 professionals are from the broadcast journalism and the electronic media. They include political and economic commentators, bloggers, newscasters, editors and government information officers.
The U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program brings international visitors, selected by U.S. Embassies around the world, to the United States for a three-week educational tour as a part of its premier professional exchange program.
“Open Door is an excellent example of a state program that showcases transparency and effective interaction between government and citizens. Freedom of information is very significant to the international participants,” said Xiao Yin, visitor program manager for the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana. “Democracy is an important topic for the program since it is lacking in the home countries of many of these visitors where they are threatened, sometimes even by their own government. They want to learn how to incorporate similar practices demonstrated by Open Door into their own reporting.”
Open Door has been recognized on multiple occasions as a national leader in setting the standard for spending transparency on government expenditures.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest advocacy organization, has twice recognized the site as a leader in setting the standard for spending transparency on government expenditures. Its most recent report on the transparency of state spending called Kentucky a “pioneer” that has “taken strides to remain at the head of the pack.”
In a report published on June 2, 2010 by The Center for Study of Responsive Law, a nonprofit organization that researches government and corporate accountability, Kentucky was recognized as a national leader for transparency in state contracts for publishing the full text of state contracts.
In the spring of 2008, Beshear issued an Executive Order establishing the e-Transparency Task Force; a 14-member bipartisan panel charged with providing a more transparent, accountable state government. On Jan. 1, 2009, Kentucky’s Open Door was launched after a concerted, multi-agency effort, led by officials of the Finance and Administration Cabinet.
Since the site was first launched, improvements and enhancements have steadily been made. Visitors can find comprehensive details on state contracts, and up-to-date data on state employee salaries. Users have the option to download expenditure records by fiscal year or by a search that they create. In January 2010, the judicial branch joined the e-transparency website. Open Door currently hosts information from both the executive and judicial branches, and all of Kentucky’s constitutional officers.
“Open Door is a comprehensive, user-friendly way for anyone to track how the Commonwealth is spending valuable tax dollars, which promotes both accountability and efficiency,” said Lori H. Flanery, secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet. “The website itself is a great example of containing government spending as only existing state resources were used to create the award winning site. No new funds were specifically dedicated to develop Open Door.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Computers, like humans, can learn. But when Google tries to fill in your search box based only on a few keystrokes, or your iPhone predicts words as you type a text message, it’s only a narrow mimicry of what the human brain is capable.
The challenge in training a computer to behave like a human brain is technological and physiological, testing the limits of computer and brain science. But researchers from IBM Corp. say they’ve made a key step toward combining the two worlds.
The company announced Thursday that it has built two prototype chips that it says process data more like how humans digest information than the chips that now power PCs and supercomputers. The chips represent a significant milestone in a six-year-long project that has involved 100 researchers and some $41 million in funding from the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. IBM has also committed an undisclosed amount of money.
The prototypes offer further evidence of the growing importance of “parallel processing,” or computers doing multiple tasks simultaneously. That is important for rendering graphics and crunching large amounts of data.
The uses of the IBM chips so far are prosaic, such as steering a simulated car through a maze, or playing Pong. It may be a decade or longer before the chips make their way out of the lab and into actual products. But what’s important is not what the chips are doing, but how they’re doing it, says Giulio Tononi, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who worked with IBM on the project.
The chips’ ability to adapt to types of information that it wasn’t specifically programmed to expect is a key feature.
“There’s a lot of work to do still, but the most important thing is usually the first step,” Tononi said in an interview. “And this is not one step, it’s a few steps.”
Technologists have long imagined computers that learn like humans. Your iPhone or Google’s servers can be programmed to predict certain behavior based on past events. But the techniques being explored by IBM and other companies and university research labs around “cognitive computing” could lead to chips that are better able to adapt to unexpected information.
IBM’s interest in the chips lies in their ability to potentially help process real-world signals such as temperature or sound or motion and make sense of them for computers.
IBM, which is based in Armonk, N.Y., is a leader in a movement to link physical infrastructure, such as power plants or traffic lights, and information technology, such as servers and software that help regulate their functions. Such projects can be made more efficient with tools to monitor the myriad analog signals present in those environments.
Dharmendra Modha, project leader for IBM Research, said the new chips have parts that behave like digital “neurons” and “synapses” that make them different than other chips. Each “core,” or processing engine, has computing, communication and memory functions.
“You have to throw out virtually everything we know about how these chips are designed,” he said. “The key, key, key difference really is the memory and the processor are very closely brought together. There’s a massive, massive amount of parallelism.”
The project is part of the same research that led to IBM’s announcement in 2009 that it had simulated a cat’s cerebral cortex, the thinking part of the brain, using a massive supercomputer. Using progressively bigger supercomputers, IBM had previously simulated 40 percent of a mouse’s brain in 2006, a rat’s full brain in 2007, and 1 percent of a human’s cerebral cortex in 2009.
A computer with the power of the human brain is not yet near. But Modha said the latest development is an important step. “It really changes the perspective from ‘What if?’ to ‘What now?’” Modha said. “Today we proved it was possible. There have been many skeptics, and there will be more, but this completes in a certain sense our first round of innovation.”
State laws are written for and by attorneys. While that might make for a good legal system, it sure makes them hard for regular people to understand. There's code law -- what law books are full of -- and then there's case law, which is how the laws are actually interpreted by courts.
Every time each state's legislature meets, they propose thousands of bills that would amend those laws. Attorney generals routinely write opinions about how laws should be interpreted. Law journals publish long articles exploring what laws mean. All of these sources and others still are more than many attorneys can keep up with, even with their paid access to expensive legal informatics systems. How is an average citizen supposed to figure out how to interpret the law?
It was this very problem that got me to start working on a solution for Virginia's laws. Over the course of a year, I've spent nights and weekends working on a website that would pull together all of these strands in a way that non-attorneys can understand, presenting all relevant data about each section of the law on a single page. Although I have a long-standing personal interest in the law, I am not an attorney. Luckily, I am a programmer.
When that website was mostly finished, I'd come to realize that it could be useful to folks in other states. My application to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's News Challenge proposed doing just that -- turning my code into a standard software package, identifying groups in states throughout the country that could implement it, and then working with them to get it set up. I was lucky enough to be selected to receive a 2011 News Challenge grant, which will allow me to spend a year and a half as a sort of a Johnny Appleseed of open government, spreading accessible state laws throughout the United States. I call that project "The State Decoded."
So what, specifically, does The State Decoded do that's so great? Here are a few features of note:
Embedded definitions: Essential to understanding the law is understanding the definitions of words. It's one thing to know that it's illegal to "play amplified music downtown after 11 p.m. on weeknights," and it's another to know that "amplified music" is defined as "sound that is made louder through means of electrical enhancement," that "downtown" is defined as "the area bounded by Main Street, 3rd Street, 8th Street, and Water Street," and that "weeknights" are "Sunday through Thursday." The State Decoded automatically locates those definitions within the code and displays them when each defined term is hovered over with the mouse.
Tagging: Laws frequently do not use the words that most people would expect. Somebody looking for laws on "theft" might come up short if they didn't know that "larceny" was the term they needed. By allowing people to tag the law prohibiting larceny with the word "theft," future visitors will find that law when they search for the more obvious term.
Automatic cross-references: Sometimes related laws are separated by hundreds or thousands of others, and it can be difficult to connect those dots. By analyzing which laws refer to others, share a lot of the same tags, tend to be amended by the same bills, and are inclined to be looked at by the same people, somebody looking at one law receives recommendations of others that are related to the current one.
A rich application programming interface: All the data stored within the site is available programmatically, so that website developers can use any of that information for their own purposes on their own websites.
Most of these features are already in place on the Virginia site, which is currently in private alpha testing. There's been a surprisingly enthusiastic response from groups across the country so far, and these days my nights and weekends are spent not on programming, but on helping folks in other states figure out how to prepare to implement The State Decoded for their laws. Once the Knight Foundation grant kicks in, development will go full-time, and my updates here on Idea Lab will be full of descriptions of fun, new features and interesting discoveries about the quirks of state laws. I look forward to your questions and comments about this project.
Online video isn’t just for adults, with kids able to operate and enjoy content via their laptops, games consoles, and other connected devices in the same way as their parents do. But the user interfaces are rarely what you’d call child-friendly.
Netflix’ Streaming Future
Netflix has made it clear that its future is one where streaming reigns supreme. DVDs are dead, folks, so get over it. Delivering movies and television shows over the Web to a range of devices is faster, cheaper, and more compatible with a rapid international expansion.
If the company is heading down this route, and it most certainly is, then it has to make its ‘Watch Instantly’ service the best it can possibly be. And that means catering to every group of people and every member of the family. Including the youngest members. After all, the children are our future, as someone once sang.
Children are often as geeky or even more geeky than their parents these days. After all, they’ve grown up in the Internet age, afforded the luxury of instant information other generations could only dream of. So Netflix would do well to look after them…
‘Just For Kids’ UI
That is exactly what the company has now done, debuting ‘Just For Kids’. This is a section made specially for children, with all the content they will love and that parents will be happy to let them watch collated into one category.
Rather than being organized by title, the content is organized by characters, as that is how kids recognize the shows they love and watch over and over again.
‘Just For Kids’ is friendly for all kids aged 12 and under, and it is going to be rolled out on all Netflix connected devices over time. For now it is only available on PC and Mac in the U.S. and Canada.
There are some commenters on the blog post suggesting that rather than making a separate section for kids that Netflix just improves the parental controls so that it’s less convoluted to restrict and release content on a regular basis.
That is clearly an issue that needs looking at, but ‘Just For Kids’ is a good start, introducing the youngest members of the family to the joy of online video at an early age.
Movieclips was good, now it’s great. And the fact that its range of movie clips (as the name implies) will now be seen on YouTube means it’s about to go mainstream in a big way.
I first covered Movieclips almost two years ago when it first launched in the U.S. with a healthy 12,000 clips. There were a few issues, such as a clunky user interface and slow loading-times, but ultimately the site showed a lot of promise.
Much has happened since then. First off, the number of clips has risen to 20,000. The site has also been improved beyond reproach and the ways and means of searching for the clip you want to see via the added meta-data have been expanded.
Unfortunately Disney is still not on board, which means Movieclips is still missing content from one of the major studios. Still, six out of seven isn’t bad. There’s also the little matter of a new round of funding worth $7 million and some even bigger news…
Movieclips On YouTube
Movieclips has landed a partnership deal with YouTube which brings its content to the Google-owned site. The hope is to provide for movies what Vevo does for music videos and Machinima does for gaming videos.
Movieclips has plans to expand from this point forward, both in terms of the number of clips available, and the range of content. We’re talking trailers, interviews with movie stars, and behind-the-scenes footage being added for good measure.
This deal is good for all parties. Movieclips gets exposure most companies would kill for, YouTube gets a premium new content-provider, and the movie studios get to control the clips being uploaded on the Web. And all three make money from sharing the revenue from adverts.
Oh, and we, as movie lovers, get to see high quality clips of the most memorable scenes from our favorite films for free. What’s not to love?